For those of you who were unable to make Sunday's sermon, I decided to reprint it here. Thank you all for your support and love.
May God bless this message and keep our hearts open to His word. . .
As I reflect upon this evening’s scripture (Mark 4:35-41), it resonates with my own personal journey. Growing up in Maine, I was aware of my sexual orientation from the tender age of 7. It scared me to death to know that I liked girls more than I liked boys. And, I intuitively knew that I could never let anyone know about that. I prayed that those feelings would go away.
I try to imagine the fear the disciples had as the storm kicked up and they thought their lives were over. And then there was Jesus, whose faith in his own well-being allowed him to sleep soundly. Given how busy his days were like, it must have been so frustrating to be shaken from his slumber by his petrified disciples.
|Simple, yet profound.|
It makes me think about how many years I lived in fear of being fully myself, feeling like I was being tossed about in a storm with no way to find solid ground. I can’t count how many times had I argued with God, asking Him why He had made me this way. There was too much noise in my head. Noise that the world put there, convincing me that to be anything other than straight was wrong and that I must be deficient or mentally ill. Noise that undermined my faith that God didn’t make mistakes and I had a right to a relationship with God and to be loved and love the way I believe God intended for me.
For many years, I thought that being gay was mutually exclusive to being a good Christian. I actually dreamed of becoming a pastor, and deferred that ambition, primarily because I thought being gay negated my ability to serve as a pastor. Admittedly, I also was tired of being poor and wanted to join a profession where I could make money. So, tonight’s opportunity is a blessed gift.
Tonight, I speak as a wife and a mother; both of which were roles I never imagined playing as I grew up. It shows how God dreams bigger than we can. More than twelve years ago I met and fell in love with my wife. Donna always knew she’d be a mom someday; yet, unlike me, didn’t realize she was a lesbian until well into her adulthood.
Reverend Valerie asked me to speak this evening because she felt that someone who is gay could speak with more integrity than she herself could on Gay Pride Sunday. I’m honored that she’s sharing her pulpit, but would argue that her voice is just as important as mine in conveying the importance of the LGBT community to our faith family and the other communities in which we live, and work, and play.
It’s important to understand that when I was growing up, I had no direct visibility to other LGBT people. I certainly hadn’t heard welcoming messages directed toward people who were gay. If anything, I watched their humanity ripped away as the gay part of their identity became nothing more than the punch line in a joke. In 1984, I was 13 years old when three young men beat up and killed Charlie Howard, who was only 23 years old, because he was gay. They threw him over a bridge in downtown Bangor. He was treated as nothing more than some annoying bug that had to be destroyed for its nuisance. In the aftermath of that event, people joked about the new name for the bridge. It went like this: “What do the Indians call the bridge in downtown Bangor? Chuck-a-homo.” I can’t say with certainty that I didn’t laugh at the joke as a 13-year old girl trying to fit in and not be identified as another “homo.” I can say with certainty that any inclination I had to share my orientation with my parents or other trusted adults was gone. I knew then that I had to leave Maine, my cherished home, to find any sense of safety.
And it saddens me to think that we are not much further along in our thinking because it’s not quite two years since Tyler Clementi’s suicide. As I learned of that tragedy, it’s what compelled me to start sharing our parenting journey in my blog, Out in Suburbia. I can’t help but think that if Tyler and other LGBT kids had a line of sight to others who were like them, they may have made different choices.
I desperately wish Tyler knew that he could have had a fulfilling life. Kids need to understand that they don’t need to be world famous musicians or comics or actors to be accepted for who they are. The can be just as innocuous as a certain inter-racial lesbian couple I know living “Out in Suburbia.”
I used the word innocuous just now. In this context, it means inoffensive. That’s how we try to live our lives. Although we have always lived authentically, we want the people we interact with to understand we have no intention of offending them. But, that doesn’t mean we aren’t offended at times. As we got to know our neighbors, we spoke casually about our family, not wanting to stand out as “the lesbians,” but hopefully demonstrating that our family is quite a bit like their families. So, as we move outside of our safe community, it’s jarring when we realize just how many assumptions people make about our family and how those assumptions can be terribly offensive.
When I was called to speak tonight, Reverend Valerie asked me about how St. Mark’s could do a better job of making our parish more welcoming to LGBT families. It really caused reflection on what experiences have not been welcoming. Not here, per se, but elsewhere. And of course, I had to ask Donna what she thought. And boy, did I stir up a hornet’s nest.
One of the things we love most about St. Mark’s is the diversity here. I like to imagine that this is what Heaven will be like; people of all backgrounds and cultures coming together to honor our differences and build upon our common values. But we’re not completely there yet. If we want to make St. Mark’s more welcoming to LGBT families, Donna and I believe you need to look at us like you would a straight family.
In other words, don’t make our being here unique. Despite the best of intentions, so many straight people move through the world with what I like to call “straight privilege.” What I mean by that is they think it’s okay to ask VERY personal questions.
For example, people here would never ask the person of color in a straight inter-racial relationship if she knew of any nannies that you could employ. One of my co-workers asked Donna that question in an elevator after she visited me at work in NYC. All he saw was a Trini woman pushing a baby carriage and looked inside at a beautiful little baby boy. Rather than see Hunter’s resemblance to his mother, he saw the difference in their skin color. But, perhaps this story is more a matter of race than it is orientation?
And, I trust you would never ask a straight woman who was finally able to conceive after years of trying, who the real mother was. Someone asked us that question in a church in Morristown, as we were looking for a church home. Initially, our response was firm but friendly, as we said, “We both are.” But, he wasn’t satisfied and asked again, more loudly, as though the first time he asked we didn’t hear him correctly. Less politely this time, we answered, “we BOTH are.” He came back a third time with the same question, and a stroke of divine intervention, manifest in his wife’s form, saved him as she said, “that’s none of our business.”
I’m confident you would never ask, when a woman and her husband share that they are expecting, who the father was. Well, our landlord at the time we were expecting Hunter asked that question of us. Soon after that, we found another place to live.
Now, why is it that so many people lose respect for people’s privacy when they are talking to a same-sex couple? The questions and comments that come out of their mouths baffle us and frankly become a source of exhaustion as we have to come out and educate over and over again.
So you see, for us, “coming out” isn’t limited to one month a year in October. And celebrating our pride isn’t only done in the month of June. Coming out happens nearly every day when people overhear Skye calling Donna “Mommy” and look puzzled, largely because they have different skin color. And we celebrate our pride, when Hunter says, “I have two moms and it rocks!”
But too often, we feel like we are being dissected to determine which members of our family unit share the same DNA. And that negates the very prayerful way that we planned and loved our family into existence just like so many of you.
What we need is for St. Mark’s to continue to be a haven of understanding. We just want recognition that we fall in love the same way you do, we make commitments to each other the same way you do, we pray that our kids grow up healthy and happy just like you do, and we weather the difficult times and enjoy the good times, just like you do.
So, my call to action for St. Mark’s is to become that church home where we can come to worship and enjoy fellowship, just like you do.
Now understand, we are not opposed to educating one another about who we are as members of the LGBT community. This can also be the place were we hold forums to talk about our differences and highlight our similarities, and advocate for one another. But when we first arrive, please just let us feel like any other family looking for a place of worship in which we can raise our families and have a sense of belonging.
Once we get that dynamic solidly in place, and when your LGBT education is complete, who knows what differences we could make outside of St. Mark’s walls?
I’ll leave you with one final thought. In tonight’s scripture, Jesus told His disciples, “don’t you even yet have confidence in me?” I want us all to remember His words and have confidence in each other as we create a space where we won’t have to hide in any closets and we can all enjoy the blessing of acceptance and understanding.